Books on writing craft aren’t for everyone, which is totally fine. I happen to get a lot out of them, but my approach is to take what works and scrap the rest. When I read craft books, it’s with an eye toward finding the gems that will supplement and strengthen my existing process, then I promptly forget the parts that don’t resonate with me.
While drafting Dance All Night: A Dance Off Holiday Novella, I noticed I was using elements from a number of different sources in my process, and I was able to pinpoint which craft books had given me each of these tools. The thing was, I hadn’t really thought about this as I was doing it. As I’d read each book, I had filed away the parts that appealed to me in my mental writer’s toolbox. During the process of planning, drafting, and revising the novella before sending it to my editor, I had used these tools without thinking, “I should use that step from that method.” The tools were just there, right when I needed them.
In this post, I’ll walk through each step and link the book that gave it to me. My thanks to all of these wonderful writers for sharing their tips and knowledge!
(Originally posted in the RWA-NYC Keynotes April newsletter. Reposting here by popular demand.)
In mid-December, I decided to enter the Golden Heart® contest. The deadline was January 11th. On December 14th, I had a 100,000-word first draft and the holidays were approaching. If I was going to do this, I needed a plan.
One friend had recently shown me her bullet journal, and I knew of another author, C.L. Polk (author of Witchmark, coming 2018 from Tor.com), who uses journaling to develop new story ideas. My background is in art, so there’s always something appealing to me about working on paper. I wanted to try using a bullet journal to help me revise and edit my novel in four weeks. Inspired, I grabbed one of my many spare notebooks, a 24-pack of Paper Mate Flair felt-tip pens, and a ruler, and got to work.
For the first time ever, I’m on deadline, so I’m putting everything I’ve learned about writing fast and writing a lot to the test. In June 2017, I wrote 22 days out of the month and added 62,298 words to the Project Roommates manuscript before hitting “The End” on June 30th. Since a few people have commented on my word counts, rather than blaming it on “desperation” and discounting all the research and work I’ve put into learning how to increase my output, I made a list of tools, suggestions, and resources to share.
As with all writing advice, take what works for you and junk the rest.
Know your best writing time
For me, that’s early mornings. It’s quiet. No emails. Noisy kids upstairs aren’t up yet. By hitting my word count first thing in the morning, I approach it fresh and rested, and it’s out of the way so I’m not worried about it for the rest of the day. Know what works for you and stick to that time. If early mornings are your thing, check out #5amwritersclub on Twitter. Bonus tip: Make sure you’re getting enough sleep!
Once upon a time, I used to sit down at a blank page and write whatever popped into my head. Other times, I toyed with an idea first, and once I had a loose premise, I started writing. I wrote about unexpected superheroes, teenage vampires, epic fantasy worlds, parallel dimensions, corrupt ghosts, possessed mermaids…and as fun as it was to play around with these stories, none of them went anywhere. Most of them were never even finished. And when I did get far enough to type “The End,” those manuscripts languished in Revision Purgatory, forever finessing, never finishing. Needless to say, this approach wasn’t going to get a manuscript polished, let alone published. I needed to change my pantser ways and embrace the art of planning.
Me as a pantser trying to revise a finished first draft.
My first drafts are pretty spare. I focus on characters and plot, dialogue and blocking. Setting details get added later. Internal monologue and reactions happen in the 2nd pass. Sensory details – like fragrances or flavors – are usually an afterthought. I’m trained as an artist, so while it’s easy for me to describe the look of something, I usually forget to include other sensory details until later. But they’re equally important. Scent can evoke memory. Taste can change a mood. Did your character just walk into a used bookstore? Maybe the scent reminds her of her grandmother’s house. Did your character just eat garlic bread? Probably not going to be kissing anyone anytime soon. What if your character is hard of hearing or has limited eyesight? The other senses will be that much stronger, and those details will stand out even more. Those little sensory details can build out a story and create a more 3-dimensional world for your reader to fall into. Continue reading